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Health union declares relationship with Victorian Government dead over Minister’s ‘incompetence’

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos is under pressure to resign after the Health Workers Union (HWU) published a scathing letter accusing her of “breathtaking incompetence” and “repeated mismanagement of the Victorian health system”.Key points:HWU secretary Diana Asmar says the union’s relationship with the State Government is “now officially dead”She says “the final straw” was a…

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Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos is under pressure to resign after the Health Workers Union (HWU) published a scathing letter accusing her of “breathtaking incompetence” and “repeated mismanagement of the Victorian health system”.

Key points:

  • HWU secretary Diana Asmar says the union’s relationship with the State Government is “now officially dead”
  • She says “the final straw” was a meeting with Ms Mikakos about the Government’s plans for Frankston Hospital
  • The union also believes Victoria won’t meet its COVID-19 roadmap targets because of PPE issues in aged care

The letter, addressed to Premier Daniel Andrews and signed by HWU secretary Diana Asmar, said Ms Mikakos lacked “even a basic understanding of her portfolio”.

“Sadly, our union’s relationship with your government is now officially dead,” Ms Asmar wrote.

“This is not about a personality clash with Ms Mikakos. I’m accustomed to dealing with individuals who display pomposity and arrogance, even when their ability does not warrant it.

“Ms Mikakos, through her incompetence, has turned the HWU, a once supportive stakeholder of your government into an actively hostile one.”

The letter calls on Mr Andrews to “insist on Ms Mikakos’ resignation, effective immediately”.

At the Premier’s daily coronavirus briefing this morning, Mr Andrews said the HWU was “entitled to a view”.

“They have put that view in fairly colourful terms,” he said.

He said the Chief Health Officer and others met with Victoria’s health sector unions weekly, and the Health Minister attended most of the meetings.

“If there are issues that group or any group in the community, particularly the health sector, want to address, we are more than happy to sit down and work with those issues,” he said.

“We have done that as a feature of the pandemic.”

When asked whether he still had confidence in Ms Mikakos, Mr Andrews said he had confidence in all of his ministers, “otherwise they wouldn’t be in my Government”.

A portrait of a woman with long curly hair wearing a black mask and black top.

Ms Asmar said Ms Mikakos was “clueless” about plans to rebuild the Frankston Hospital.(ABC News: Michael Gleeson)

Hospital Public Private Partnership plan ‘the final straw’

The letter said the HWU had a “functioning working relationship” with the State Government for many years, due largely to the work of former health minister Jill Hennessy, who the union described as “highly competent”.

But Ms Asmar said a meeting on Monday about Ms Mikakos’s plans to enter a Public Private Partnership (PPP) to rebuild the Frankston Hospital was “the final straw” for the union, after 18 months of witnessing her “hazy blankness” in respect to the Victorian health system.

“Ms Mikakos failed to answer simple questions. She had no understanding of the difference between clinical roles and non-clinical roles within a hospital, nor could she comprehend the details of the PPP proposal,” Ms Asmar said.

“She is still clueless.”

Ms Asmar also accused the Health Minister’s office of being “completely dysfunctional” and said it was only through the “good work of [the Premier’s] personal staff” that Monday’s meeting had been arranged.

The union — which represents a broad range of clinical and non-clinical staff working in public and private hospitals, pathology, community health, disability and aged care — also raised concern about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, particularly in aged care.

“As long as Minister Mikakos and DHHS insist on the existing tiered guidelines to PPE in aged care, it is our view that Victoria will not achieve its infection targets to warrant a return to even stage 2 lockdowns. Many more deaths in Victorian aged care homes will ensue,” Ms Asmar said.

“The virus does not discriminate within facilities. Yet aged care workers are treated differently with respect to accessing sufficient levels of PPE.”

Mikakos a ‘hard-working Minister’, says ANMF

Not all Victoria’s health sector unions are publicly critical of Ms Mikakos’s performance, with one linking the attack to internal Labor politics.

A statement from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Association (ANMF) said the union did not support calls for her resignation or sacking.

“Ms Mikakos has demonstrated she is a hard-working Minister who is across her portfolio,” the statement said.

The union confirmed Ms Mikakos had attended weekly pandemic response meetings with health union leaders and listened and responded to the ANMF’s concerns.

“ANMF does not usually comment on ALP left and right politics, but on this occasion is concerned that matters unrelated to the health portfolio are at play,” the statement said.

Ms Mikakos is due to face the COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry today where she will likely face questions about the lines of accountability in the botched program.

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